I finally finished reading this epic tale last night. It took me roughly three months to finish it and when it was over, I felt a great sense of pride for conquering this book. I must say, it was mildly eerie to be reading about the destruction of copper mines and oil fields while we are watching the gulf literally hemorrhage oil and destroy the livelihoods and wildlife of the people there. I cannot help but draw parallels to the book and it scares me when I do.
“Atlas Shrugged” was first published in 1957. The premise involves a contingent of the greatest minds that decides they are the victims of extortion by the government of the time. Though their genius has provided the many modern luxuries and systems that form the backbone of modern society, the government deems them greedy and attempts to stamp steep regulations on them such that all will be more “fair” and “equal” among all citizens (Rand meant for this to represent Marxism in its fullest form).
So, led by the mysterious force whose identity is not revealed until late in the story (though you can probably guess fairly early on), the great minds of society decide to go on “strike,” refusing to use their genius for the “looters” who only wish to extort it. They destroy their oil fields, copper mines, motors, etc. so that their genius can never again be used by those who wish to take advantage of it.
The main character of the tale is Dagny Taggert, the female Director of Operations for Taggert Transcontinental. I was surprised to see a female play the role she embodies when considering the book was written during the 50s, but I think it suits Rand’s aims perfectly.
As I struggled to think of the best way to “sum up” the general plot of the book, I realized very quickly that there is no quick summary. It is a complex story and references so many philosophical theories, treatises and premises that it is difficult to keep up at times when you are reading it, much less trying to explain it.
As you might imagine, a book that defends the free market society and the core of capitalistic notions would be highly touted by the conservative factions of our society. However, I think that the book transcends ideological and political aims to address a very human basic right of being able to claim the propriety of one’s own mind. One should not be taxed or punished for the ability of their mind, that is Rand’s ultimate message in “Atlas Shrugged.”
I did a little Wikipedia research to try to answer some of the questions I had about the structure of the novel and learned that the sections of the books are divided into Aristotelian laws of logic and identity. I honestly had to skim over much of the highly philosophical portions because I was desperate to see how the suspenseful elements of the plot were going to unfold, but I do plan to go back and re-read them in more detail once I have distanced myself a bit from the story.
Overall, I would recommend that anyone who has the time and dedication read “Atlas Shrugged” because it addresses issues that are important to consider as human beings and as participants in a capitalistic society. My advice would be to enter into the book blindly–do not research it on Wikipedia first and do read it as you would a novel. Do not go looking for the philosophies behind it and do not expect to agree with all of them. Rand definitely presented myriad theories throughout the tale and some of them might be considered to be quite extreme.
This is definitely not a “beach read” kind of book but one to be read with diligence and determination, open to the thoughts presented but also critical for it is a hyperbolic example of a certain extreme.